Third-year wide receiver sleepers to watch for fantasy football in 2022

Typically, third-year wide receivers have a lot of success, but which ones should you have your eyes on as sleepers for fantasy football in the 2022 season?

Early in my fantasy football career, a wide receiver’s third season was when he typically broke out. In more recent years, it’s been a receiver’s second season where that leap occurs. As a result, third-year wide receivers sometimes get overlooked. Here are a couple of sleeper wide receivers entering their third NFL season worth keeping an eye on.

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Third-year wide receiver fantasy football sleepers

It’s a bit of a challenge to find third-year WR sleepers. This is mostly because this wide receiver class was so good.

Of the first eight wide receivers selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, only one of them can be considered a sleeper. The good: Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Pittman Jr., and Tee Higgins all go within the first three rounds of fantasy football drafts. Jerry Jeudy goes too early as well and absolutely no one is sleeping on fourth-rounder Gabriel Davis this season. Even fifth-rounder Darnell Mooney is too good to call a sleeper.

The not-so-good: Jalen Reagor goes undrafted, and I don’t want to even mention the guy who wound up being the first wide receiver selected.

Even with so many talented receivers not qualifying as sleepers, this class was deep enough that we still have options.

Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

Brandon Aiyuk is the “least sleeper-y” of the names on this list. He broke out as a rookie in 2020, averaging 15.4 PPR fantasy points per game. His ADP entering the 2022 season plummeted due to his lackluster 2021 season where he averaged just 10 ppg.

With the 49ers moving to Trey Lance, their passing volume is likely to decrease even more. Fantasy managers are rightly concerned about whether Lance can run 8-10 times a game and also support three fantasy-relevant pass catchers. Deebo Samuel and George Kittle are not about to see their target shares decrease. Thus, if Lance is throwing less than Jimmy Garoppolo, it will likely come at Aiyuk’s expense.

With that said, Aiyuk is good at football. He was able to command a 24.5% target share as a rookie. Although that fell to 18.5% last season, Aiyuk wasn’t really a full-time player until Week 8 after starting the season in Kyle Shanahan’s “dog house.”

Aiyuk enters the 2022 season without any baggage and will start opposite Samuel immediately. He averaged 13.2 ppg over his final 11 games. If fantasy managers can get those numbers from a guy they don’t have to draft top 36 at the position, that would be an excellent value.

Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers

I’m including Chase Claypool here because he qualifies — not because I necessarily agree with drafting him.

After posting an impressive 13.4 ppg as a rookie, Claypool seemingly regressed to 11.1 ppg as a sophomore. He really didn’t, though. Claypool just scored seven fewer touchdowns. His output was nearly identical, catching three fewer passes for 13 fewer yards.

The problem with Claypool’s consistency from Year 1 to Year 2 is that’s not what we want from a young player. We want to see growth, improvement, progression, etc. Instead, we got stagnation.

The reason Claypool is still considered a third-year sleeper at the wide receiver position is his ADP. Last year, Claypool was a fifth or sixth-round pick. Whereas, this year, you can get him in the ninth round or later.

If you’re a believer in Claypool’s talent, perhaps the move to Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett — both of whom can’t possibly be worse downfield passers than 2021 Ben Roethlisberger — will unlock Claypool’s upside. At a WR4 price, Claypool is all upside.

Devin Duvernay, Baltimore Ravens

Given the Ravens’ gaping hole at WR2, I have to include Devin Duvernay. But I’m not happy about it. We typically want rookie wide receivers to surpass 500 receiving yards as a harbinger of future success. Duvernay still doesn’t have 500 receiving yards total.

With that said, there’s a chance he opens the season as Baltimore’s starting WR2 opposite Rashod Bateman. If that happens, there’s at least a chance he can command targets from Lamar Jackson. I wouldn’t bank on it, though.

Even with an ADP of free (he goes undrafted in standard-sized leagues), there are better darts to throw at than Duvernay. Nevertheless, his status as a potential NFL starter in two-receiver sets for an elite quarterback renders him a potential third-year wide receiver sleeper.

K.J. Osborn, Minnesota Vikings

In terms of being a true third-year WR sleeper, K.J. Osborn fits the criteria the best. He’s also my favorite one.

Osborn won the Vikings’ WR3 job in 2021. He averaged 9.3 PPR fantasy points per game, finishing as a fantasy WR4. But he flashed far more upside than that. Osborn recorded seven games of at least 14 fantasy points. After Adam Thielen went down in Week 13, Osborn averaged 13.8 fantasy points over the remainder of the fantasy season.

It’s a coin flip as to whether Osborn will even be drafted in standard-sized leagues. You can have him as the final wide receiver on your roster. This a player that should have standalone WR4 value with legitimate WR2 upside should something happen to Thielen again (or, and I don’t want to even put this out there, Justin Jefferson).

With a new head coach in Kevin O’Connell likely to implement a more pass-heavy attack, Kirk Cousins should be able to support three fantasy-relevant receivers. Osborn is one of my favorite last-round sleeper picks at wide receiver.

Some other third-year wide receivers to file away

Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

Like many, I’ve written Laviska Shenault Jr. off, but there’s at least a puncher’s chance a new coaching staff can unlock some untapped potential.

Bryan Edwards, Atlanta Falcons

Analytics Twitter’s favorite wide receiver couldn’t find a way to matter on a barren Raiders’ depth chart last season. Bryan Edwards now finds himself on an equally barren Falcons’ depth chart. Maybe? But probably not.

Van Jefferson, Los Angeles Rams

Van Jefferson will have moments of fantasy relevance as long as this knee injury isn’t anything serious…but it sounds like it is.

Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cleveland Browns

With Deshaun Watson only missing six games, Cleveland’s ancillary receivers are suddenly more interesting. But someone else can have DPJ, as I just don’t see him as anything more than a deep threat.

James Proche, Baltimore Ravens

If not Duvernay, then maybe James Proche?

KJ Hamler, Denver Broncos

Tim Patrick’s injury opens the door for KJ Hamler to start in three-receiver sets.

Jason Katz is a Fantasy Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter: @jasonkatz13 and find more of his work here.

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